In light of limited health care funds, there is a need for reliable information relating costs to clinical outcomes. Distinction should be made between diseases for which improved outcomes relate to intensity of care and those for which limits of current knowledge preclude improved results. A survey of 1,656 burn admissions to 73 hospitals over a one-year period showed that length of stay, unpaid bills, and the proportion of unpaid bills to total bills were two to six times greater than for nonburn admissions to the same hospitals. Three hospitals had special burn facilities, and even when adjustments were made for severity of injury, these hospitals had poorer outcomes and higher costs when all their burn patients were studied. When only those patients with greater than 30 per cent burn were compared between hospitals with and without special burn programs, or when patients were matched for degree of burn, the hospitals with the special programs still had no better patient outcomes than those without such facilities. The crucial question, then, is whether mortality and complications were lower in special facilities. Although there was no evidence in this survey that they were, the final answer must come from a prospective study of outcome. If these survey results are confirmed, burns might be identified as an illness for which current limits in management abilities limit the ultimate proportion of successful outcomes.